By Jerome-Mario Utomi
On Monday, May 4, 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released the long-awaiting Nigeria poverty and inequality survey Report 2019 and ranked Delta state as the Second least poor state in Nigeria. By its latest poverty index Report, the Bureau going by reports stated that 40.1 percent of Nigeria’s population was poor. Noting that an average of four out of 10 Nigerians had real per capital expenditures below N137, 430 per year, meaning that the monthly per capita income in this category was less than N11.500, while income per day was N383, 003.EWS
As expected, this development particularly as it affects Delta state has elicited reactions from stakeholders and the public at large, while some hails the action of the president others view it with skepticism. The boundaries between these two spheres has been shifted back and forth for some days and in some cases been a source of tension.
Meanwhile, the loudest of these voices arguably came from the National coordinator of centre for peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), comrade Sheriff Mulade, who among other remarks told the media that the recent report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), that ranks Delta as Nigeria‘s second least poor country, does not reflect the Economic realities of the state. His argument was based on the fact that most Deltans currently live below the poverty line- a fact, he claims render the NBS’s report as fake and misleading.
To some Deltans with critical interest, Mulade’s assertion may not be accurate as emphasis is not only changing, rather, significant structural changes in the state is gradually displacing ‘the old norms’. In their submission, if a visit is made to the state, particularly the coastal region of the state and analysis/report of such visit placed side by side with documented accounts of deprivation, degradation and abandonment that formerly characterized the region, one thing will definitely stand out. It will reveal something fundamentally new and different.
First, it will justify the belief that creative concepts of leaders can bring both disruptive and constructive aspect; and authenticates the conviction that leader’s action and inactions has the capacity to shatter set patterns of thinking, threaten the status quo, or at the very least stir up people’s anxieties, it will most importantly bring to the fore the understanding that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is indeed, doing well infrastraucturally.
The ongoing development in the state they argued cannot be attributed to speculation but a decision process built on right judgement and supported by rational inferences basically different from mathematical probability process. Okowa, they concluded, has shown that strategic success cannot be reduced to a formula, nor can one become a strategic thinker by reading a book, but, through constant demonstration of competence, connection and character.
Against the background of the broad infrastructural trends/ development and a number of other important changes now taking place in the structure of the coastal region of the state, Comrade Mulade Sheriff on his part, conditionally admitted that it is only Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s led administration that has given the people of the coastal communities in the state some sense of belonging. Others he opined failed to implement laws and policies capable of improving the life chances of the people. With Okowa, the age-long excuse by previous administrations that the coastal region cannot be developed because the terrain is marshy-a feature that renders construction difficult if not impossible, can no longer be sustained.
He however, underlined that despite these appreciable good/internal road networks and other infrastructural development, if objective analysis can replace emotional discussion regarding the economic condition of the state, and a step is taken beyond this infrastructural development in the state, it will bring a clearer understanding that qualifies the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranking of Delta as Nigeria‘s second least poor, as not the true representation of the Economic realities of the state.
The facts speak for itself. And they are visibly signposted in the governor’s inability in finding a lasting solution to the societal problems vis-a-vis youth unemployment and developing a climate of sustainable future and innovation in the state in such a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations and contributes to compatible approaches
Mulade specifically pointed out that the state cannot be ranked as economically viable when the people of the coastal communities are still very much in abject poverty and deprived of basic necessities of life, access to good health care, good roads, Portable water, looked down upon by those in the urban region, and the School Children cannot compete academically with their peers from other parts of the state. Just name it, the list is endless. Is it the degraded environment that has been long forgotten by the government?
Talking about youth unemployment in the state, he pointed to a report which recently puts it this way; ‘we are in dire state of strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us no where.’
Youths challenge in the past led to the proliferation of ethnic militia as well as youth restiveness not just in the region but across the country. But this threat has become more pronounced in the oil-rich region of the country where the chunk of the large army of professionally-trained ex-militants is currently without a job.
It is after engaging these teaming youths through employment creation which will in turn curb incessant youth restiveness in the state that we can start considering the NBS claim on the state.
For this development to be made possible, he explained that there are two pressing demands from the Governor. He must develop the political will to pass the CADA bill to law. That is the only way Governor Okowa can make the development he has brought to the coastal areas a sustainable programme. And he will be celebrated forever by the people of the region even when he must have gone.
Apart from his call on the state government to ensure that the billions of naira received from the federal allocation reflect in the infrastructural availability in the state and in the human capital development of the people of the state, another compelling point was Mulade’s call on the state to develop a community development engagement template that deals directly with communities.
He therefore concluded that when this is achieved, the people of the state will seem certain to make an increasing contribution to the development of the state as a handful of them can now afford the luxury of education and access to good amenities. And in hindsight, help deltans that feel that they have a governor that cares.
As the debate rages, it is important to add that though faced with interminable socioeconomic and environmental challenges, one thing is sure. Niger Delta is troubled but not despondent. A situation that makes it easy for them to be managed and contained if only the state government could come up with a plan to tackle the challenges as currently faced by the people of the state.
Jerome-Mario Utomi ([email protected]), is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.